Marawi City & Lake Lanao – Cultural Watershed of the Maranao

Bacarat Torogan
The Bacarat Torogan has massive pillars set on stones to make it earthquake-proof.

To outsiders – even to its Mindanaoan neighbors  – Marawi City has the longstanding reputation of being a land of no return. While the stigma carries a kernel of truth (with occasional incidents of kidnap-for-ransom or car-napping reported in the news), to see the city only this way is an unfairly narrow-minded perspective.
Upon visiting the only Islamic City in the Philippines, the adventurous and culture-curious will be otherwise delighted with a picturesque lakeside landscape of magnificent mosques, exquisitely crafted royal dwellings and spicy local cuisine. Marawi City is the cultural center of the Maranao – the “People of the Lake” – the Islamized indigenous group best known for their myths and legends, and sophisticated artworks such as woodcarving and brassware.

Marawi Resort Hotel - Mindanao State University (MSU) Campus
View of downtown Marawi and Lake Lanao from MSU Campus
King Faisal Mosque - Mindanao State University (MSU) Campus
King Faisal Mosque in MSU Campus

Upon arriving at the Mindanao State University campus – the home base of tourists in the city and nearly 50,000 students from across the country – one will be pleasantly surprised with the scenic and peaceful atmosphere. I really enjoyed the cool climes of the city, akin to that of Tagaytay, and the leafy environs overlooking Lake Lanao, the second largest in the country, and one of the 15 ancient lakes of the world. The lake is the source of the Agus river system which produces enough hydroelectric energy to supply 70% of Mindanao’s power. Across the body of water is the sultry feminine silhouette of a mountain range called Sleeping Beauty, best admired during clear mornings from the golf course.
The MSU Campus is home to a handful of tourist attractions. The Aga Khan Museum showcases M’ranao and other indigenous artifacts from across Mindanao; while the green-domed King Faisal Mosque, with its towering spires, is an imposing sight. Near the entrance of the campus are the torogan-inspired cottages of Marawi Resort Hotel, a tourist spot in itself with its swimming pool, golf course and clubhouse, which serves superb M’ranao cuisine like beef randang.

But authentic Marawi life can be experienced outside the confines of MSU in the lakeside downtown area called Banggolo, dominated by the Islamic Center of the Philippines, which boasts of the largest dome structure in the country.  It will be a surprise to many that the Islamic City is the original reference point of all roads in Mindanao. Look for the okir designed concrete KM 0 Marker. For exquisite souvenirs, shop for kumbong (veil) or malongs (sarong) at padian or downtown market, a brightly colored labyrinth overflowing with garments imported from Indonesia and Malaysia. For M’ranao brassware such as betel nut boxes and sarimanok (mythical bird) statues, check out the handicraft shops along Perez Street.

Padian (Market)
The padian (downtown market) is a colorful labyrinth of garments imported from Indonesia and Malaysia
Torogan sa Dayawan - Detail
Okir carvings of Torogan sa Dayawan

One thing I was looking forward the most with this visit was seeing a real torogan. The village of Dayawan is home to the remaining M’ranao royal houses in the city. The torogan is the traditional ancestral house of upper-class M’ranao, one of the Islamized indigenous groups of western Mindanao . It also serves as a venue for socio-religious events like weddings and funerals. They’re characterized by steep roofs and decorative woodwork called okir. Sadly, only a handful of these heritage structures are left.

Built in the early 19th century, the Torogan sa Dayawan was declared a National Cultural Treasure but, due to limited funding and management problems, is poorly maintained. Nearby, the Bacarat Torogan is characterized by massive pillars set on stones to make the torogan earthquake-proof.


Marawi City can be safely explored when accompanied by a local. While the MSU Campus can be explored alone, one must not venture to the downtown area without a local friend or accredited tour guide. When doing so, all visitors must abide to the Muslim dress code, since Marawi is officially an Islamic City. Women, in particular, whether Muslim or not, must dress modestly and wear the kumbong (Muslim veil). The locals are not used to tourists visiting the downtown area. Take photographs discretely, and always ask permission before taking snapshots of people. I solicited the help of my tour guide to intercede for me when I wanted to take portraits. For visitor assistance, contact city tourism officer Mrs. Zenaida Banto in advance at +63 9071957885.

Beef Randang - Marawi Resort Hotel - Mindanao State University (MSU) Campus
Beef randang at Marawi Resort Hotel

HOW TO GET THERE: Marawi City can be reached from Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. From Iligan City, ride a Suarez jeepney to the transport terminal (PHP 8). Take a Iligan-MSU jeepney to the campus of Mindanao State University (45 mins to 1 hour, PHP 50). Tricycles can take you around the campus (PHP 15, 1-2 persons). From the MSU campus, MSU-Marawi jeepneys shuttle passengers to the downtown area (15 mins, PHP 10).

WHERE TO STAY: The sprawling Mindanao State University (MSU) Campus is the safest place to stay in Marawi City. The University Hostel (+63 9292627986), located behind the College of Information Technology (CIT) building, offers dorm beds in gender-segregated rooms for only PHP 250 per head. Curfew is 9:00 PM.

For creature comforts, check in at Marawi Resort Hotel (+63 9177166379;, near the main entrance of the campus, where torogan-inspired cottages provide cozy accommodation, starting at PHP 1,500 for 2 persons. Amenities include a golf course, swimming pool and clubhouse.

WHERE TO EAT: A must-try would be the Maranao dishes at the clubhouse of Marawi Resort Hotel like beef randang (PHP 200, good for two). Also check out the halal eateries and roti (bread) joints in downtown Marawi.

One Reply to “Marawi City & Lake Lanao – Cultural Watershed of the Maranao”

  1. It’s always best when the hotel incorporates the local culture into its design. That way just staying in it gives guests a preview of what to look forward to outside. This is the exact reason we always enjoy our stay at the hotel luton. We get a nice local feel just by staying in.

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